Latino or Hispanic?

I wrote a response to a query in H-LatAm that may be of interest to people outside of the list. 

 This is the link to the original query:

 This is the link to my reply:

 Below is the text:


 Nelly and Neteros

 The most common and inclusive name in Academia seems to be this: “Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies.” You may want to add “Luso” to specifically refer to Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking America. The stand-alone title of “Caribbean Studies” often includes the Creole, Dutch, French and English speaking regions of the Western Hemisphere and its Diaspora. You may cover it all with such an agglomerate and bulky title. More recently some programs have attempted innovative approaches that use variations of “Western Hemispheric Studies.” As long as the constitution clearly specify that the program will focus on the legacy of those mentioned above, I would go for the latter choice.

But I suspect your concern is more about the terminology as used to classify a diverse group of (brown?) people in the United States. This question, like Puerto Rico’s political status, seems unanswerable, and thus, appears regularly, as a frustrated inquiring student, in forums and chats, hoping for elucidation. H-LatAm has engaged on it occasionally, showing, “mas o menos,” the same basic concepts (a short piece I published once: As a person that is classified as both, Latino/a and Hispanic, I once found it supremely aggravating. Now, I see it more from a distance.

The disadvantages of the term “Latino” are that it may refer to a dead (and imperial) language, and that is sexist. Those who prefer it see the term relating more to the Latino-American Diaspora (and this would refer to those dispersed in Europe, Australia-NZ, Africa and Asia too). They see the Latin Language far enough in time as not being a threat, and some would even be willing to risk altering the English Language by making the term more gender-inclusive: “Latino/a.” They would also point out that the term Hispanic comes from Nixon’s attempt to classify this growing “Other” as a form of control.

The main disadvantage with the term “Hispanic” is that it attempts to group people under a living language that not all use. More specifically, the reference is not so much to the Spanish Language, but to the Hispanic Culture, and thus a direct relation to the Iberian Peninsula as opposed to Latin America. And this is anathema to those with anti-imperial sensitivities and who know well that not all classified as such are Spanish speakers (indigenous languages abound, and most in the second and third generations speak “Spanglish” instead). However, this term is more widely use (thanks to the U.S. government) and it is more gender-neutral than the alternative.

I have not recently looked at the latest published debates on this topic, but a review we once published here has a short, but very scholarly discussion (if not global) of the issue, which I have not seen in other places: “Memories of the Future”

I wonder how the debate has changed, if it has (an interesting research could be to find out the changes it has taken through the years in our forum).

For me, personally, I see it as deciding between two bad choices. Naturally, I prefer the least problematic, and for me it is “Latino/a,” but others would see it differently.

 This may not answer the original question, but when these issues arise, I use them as teaching opportunities to show (students and administrators alike) that the term is not what matters, but the meaning we ascribe to it.


Dennis R. Hidalgo

History Department

Virginia Tech



About Dennis R. Hidalgo
I am a historian of the Atlantic World. I am passionate about people, those alive in the present and those who left little trace of their past.

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